Question. But how must the Christian stand upon his watch?
Answer First. Watch constantly. ‘The lamp’ of God in the tabernacle was to ‘burn always,’ Ex. 27:20; 30:8; that is, always in the night, which sense is favoured by several other places. And I pray, what is our life in this world but a dark night of temptation? Take heed, Christian, that thy watch-candle go not out in any part of this darksome time, lest thy enemy come upon thee in that hour. He can find thee, but thou canst not resist him in the dark. If once thy eye be shut in a spiritual slumber, thou art a fair mark for his wrath; and know thou canst not be long off thy watch but the devil will hear on it. The devil knew the apostles’ sleeping time, and then he desires leave to ‘winnow’ them, Luke 22. He saw they were in some disorder, the eye of their soul began ‘to be heavy.’ The thief riseth when honest men go to bed. The devil, I am sure, begins to tempt when saints cease to watch. When the staff is thrown away, then the wolf appears. When the soul puts her danger farthest off, and lies most secure, then it is nearest. Therefore labour to be constant in thy holy care; the want of this spoils all. Some you shall have, that after a great fall into a sin that hath bruised them sorely, will seem very careful for a time where they set their foot, how they walk, and what company they come in; but as soon as the soreness of their consciences wears off, their watch is broken up, and they are as careless as ever; like one that is very careful to shut up his shop strongly, and may be sits up late to watch it also for two or three nights after it hath been robbed, but then minds it no more. Others in an affliction, or newly come out of the furnace, O how nice and scrupulous are they while the smell of fire is about them, and memory of their distress fresh! They are as tender of sinning, as one that comes out of a hot close room is of the air. They shrink at every breath of temptation stirring. But alas, how soon are they hardened to commit those sins without remorse, the bare motion of which, but a little before, did so trouble and afflict them? Josephus, in his Antiquities, tells us that the sons of Noah, for some years after the flood, dwelt on the tops of high mountains, not daring to take up their habitation in the lower ground for fear of being drowned by another flood; yet in process of time, seeing no flood came, they ventured down into the plain of Shinar, where their former fear, we see, ended in one of the boldest, proudest attempts against God, that the sun was ever witness to—the building I mean of a tower whose top should reach heaven, Gen 11:2-4. They who at first were so maidenly and fearful, as not to venture down their hills for fear of drowning, now have a design to secure themselves against all future attempts from the God of heaven himself. Thus oft we see God’s judgements leave such an impression on men’s spirits, that for a while they stand aloof from their sins—as these on their hills—afraid to come down to them; but when they see fair weather continue, and no clouds gather towards another storm, then they can descend to their old wicked practices, and grow more bold and heaven-daring than ever. But if thou wilt be a Christian indeed, keep on thy watch still, remit not in thy care. Thou hast well run hitherto. O lie not down, like some lazy traveller, by the wayside to sleep, but reserve thy resting time till thou gettest home out of all danger. Thy God rested not till the last day’s work in the creation was finished, neither do thou cease to wake or work till thou canst say thy salvation work is finished.
Answer Second. Watch universally.
- Watch thy whole man. The honest watchman walks the rounds, and compasseth the whole town. He doth not limit his care to this house or that. So do thou watch over thy whole man. A pore in the body is a door wide enough to let in a disease if God command, and any one faculty of thy soul, or member of thy body to let in an enemy that may endanger thy spiritual welfare. Alas, how few set the watch round? some one faculty is not guarded, or member of the body not regarded. He that is scrupulous in one, you shall find him secure in another. May be thou settest a watch at the door of thy lips, that no impure communication offends the ears of men; but how is the Lord’s watch kept at the temple door of thy heart? II Chr. 23:6. Is not that defiled with lust? Thou, may be, keepest thy hand out of thy neighbour’s purse, and thy foot from going on a thievish errand to thy neighbour’s house; but does not thy envious heart grudge him what God allows him? When thou prayest, thou art very careful thy outward posture be reverent; but what eye hast thou on thy soul that it performs its part in the duty?
- Watch in everything. If the apostle bids, ‘in everything give thanks,’ then it behoves us in everything to watch, that God may not lose his praise, which he doth in most for want of watching. No action so little, almost, but we may in it do God or the devil some service, and therefore none too little for our care to be bestowed on. He was a holy man indeed, of whom it was said, that ‘he ate and drank eternal life.’ The meaning is, he kept such a holy watch over himself in these things, that he was in heaven while doing them. There is no creature so little among all God’s works but his providence watcheth over it, even to a sparrow and a hair. Let there be no word or work of thine over which thou art not watchful. Thou shalt be judged by them even to thy idle words and thoughts, and wilt thou not have care of them?
Answer Third. Watch wisely. This thou shalt do if thou knowest where thou shouldst keep strictest watch, and that must be first in the weightiest duty of the command. ‘Tithing of cummin and anise’ must not be neglected; but take heed thou dost not neglect the weightiest things of the law, ‘judgment, mercy, and faith,’ making your preciseness in the less a blind for your horrible wickedness in the greater, Matt. 23:23.
- Begin at the right end of your work,Christian, by placing your chief care about these main duties to God and man, in his law and gospel, in his worship, and in thy daily course; which when thou hast done, neglect not the circumstantials. Should a master before he goes forth, charge his servant to look to his child, and trim his house up handsomely against he comes home, when he returns will he thank his servant for sweeping his house, and making it trim, if he finds his child through his negligence fallen into the fire, and by it killed or crippled? No sure, he left his child with him as his chief charge, to which the other should have yielded, if both could not be done. There hath been a great zeal of late among us about some circumstantials of worship; but who looks to the little child—the main duties of Christianity, I mean? Was there ever less love, charity, self-denial, heavenly-mindedness, or the power of holiness in any of its several walks, than in this sad age of ours? Alas, these, like the child, are in great danger of perishing in the fire of contention and division, which a perverse zeal in less things hath kindled among us.
- Be sure thou beest watchful more than ordinary over thyself, in those things where thou findest thyself weakest,and hast been oftenest foiled. The weakest part of the city needs the strongest guard, and in our bodies the tenderest part is most observed and kept warmest. And I should think it were strange, if thy fabric of grace stands so strong and even, that thou shouldst not soon perceive which side needs the shore most, by some inclination of it one way more than another. Thy body is not so firm, but thou findest this humour overabound, and that part craze faster than another; and so mayest thou in thy soul. Well, take counsel in the thing, and what thou findest weakest, watch more carefully. Is it thy head is weak—thy judgment I mean? watch thyself, and come not among those that drink no wine but that which thy weak parts cannot bear —seraphic notions and high-flown opinions—and do not think thyself much wronged to be forbidden their cup. Such strong wine is more heady than hearty, and they that trade most with it are not found of the healthiest tempers of their souls, no more than they that live most of strong water are for their bodies. Is thy impotency in thy passions? Indeed we are weak as they are strong and violent. Now watch over them as one that dwells in a thatched house would do of every spark that flies out of his chimney, lest it should light on it and set all on fire. O take heed what speeches come from thy mouth, or from any thou conversest with. This is the little instrument sets the whole course of nature on flame. When our neighbour’s house is on fire we cast water on our roof, or cover it with a wet sheet. When the flame breaks out at another’s mouth, now look thou throwest water on thy own hot spirit. Some cooling, wrath-quenching scriptures and arguments ever carry with thee for that purpose. And so in any other particular as thou findest thy weakness.